Dead Fashionable

Goth, that most unloved of youth cults, is back in style

Independent - London/August 22, 2002
By Ryan Gilbey

Goth is back. What - again? Yes, again. But then, it never really goes away, does it? Unlike punk, which becomes more diluted with each supposed comeback, Goth is magically insulated against fickle consumer trends. Admittedly, it has a good few hundred years' advantage over punk. But the manner of the various Goth revivals in recent times has been strikingly consistent. Goth will tend to shrink into the background for a few years, biding its time until another morbid fashion collection, or another vaguely spooky hit movie or TV show, supplies the host on which it can piggyback into the limelight again. The last time that Goth spilt over from specialised enclaves (S&M dungeons, Cure conventions) into mainstream culture was roughly five years ago. Goth-inflected graphic novels such as Hellboy and the recently filmed "From Hell" had begun flying off bookshop shelves. The fashion industry swooned to the dark romance of Alexander McQueen. There was a brief horror movie revival, led by the blood-spattered postmodernism of Scream. And, most significant, there was the body-piercing revolution that has by now perforated a generation.

And now, Goth is back. The piercings didn't go away, and perhaps their general acceptance owes something to the fact that suburban parents have other things on their minds: when the six o'clock news is warning that your children are using their dinner money to buy cheap Es outside the school gates, eyebrow-rings and nose-studs will always be small potatoes. The modern manifestations of Goth do rather tend toward the benign. Even dear old Marilyn Manson is, as his friends keep attesting, just a gentle giant, a big silly, beneath the freak- show slap.

The Gothic genre has mutated in the past 20 years to incorporate anything that strays even partly into the territory of horror. The dandyish romance of true Gothic is no longer a key component, which means that the movement is no longer Gothic as a citizen of the early 20th century would have comprehended the term. Those who maintain the supremacy of Gothic point to the enduring popularity of Goth icons such as Christina Ricci, Tim Burton and Anne Rice; to TV series such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Chris Carter's The X- Files and Millennium; and to the trend in fashion toward an emaciated, malnourished or simply moribund appearance. And Siouxsie and the Banshees are reforming, though you do rather fear for them in today's increasingly chirpy charts.

The newest supposed Goth revival is predominantly fashion-led. The Gucci catwalk in particular was a funereal march of supermodels with dark-circled eyes, crosses nestling in their bony cleavages, black robes bound in a darkly sexual way around their bodies. It seems that black, for once, really is the new black. "This season's muse", broods the September edition of Vogue, "is a confident, bewitching beauty who stalks the urban landscape day and night in dark, sexy, gothic-inspired fashion." She wears "spiky, deviant- looking heels that are made for dramatic entrances, exits and, above all, striding". No word on what she eats for breakfast, though it's certain to be something austere and uncompromising. This dame wouldn't be seen undead with a Pop-tart.

It's fun to be swept along by fashion-industry prophecies, which are, after all, self-fulfilling: they tell us what sort of person these lines are pitched at, and we buy the clothes, hoping to fit the bill. But does that really constitute any kind of revival? People are wearing black. People are thinking about death. In 2002, it must surely take more than that to merit the Gothic stamp.

Perhaps it is my inbuilt dread that makes me want to deny the movement's predominance. For this particular Goth-intolerant sceptic, each impending revival ushers forth a real-life Groundhog Day. The Goths I met at college always seemed spectacularly pointless creatures. In Gavin Baddeley's new book Goth Chic - about which I would be brutally dismissive, were Baddeley not a devout Satanist capable of administering a curse that would force me to write the angling column on The Chippenham Argus for all eternity - the author notes that Goth is "the only youth cult with a literary and artistic tradition all of its own".

The Goths I knew didn't display any more erudition or enlightenment than the Erasure fans parading around the refectory in over-tight 501s - they never quoted Byron or programmed a season of Edgar Allan Poe movies or conjured up the spirit of Aleister Crowley by the drinks machine. More typical behaviour included setting light to rose petals and passing around handwritten copies of Fields of the Nephilim lyrics, which, let's face it, is no good to anyone. Sure, we all dabble - I owned a long black coat and a Gene Loves Jezebel 12-inch; heck, I even got to third base with a Goth once - but when I left college, I foolishly believed that I had seen my last frilly lace cuff, caught my last whiff of patchouli oil. And now, here I am, telling you that Goth is back. Won't this day ever end?

Not that this breed ever did me any harm. Don't be alarmed by the Gothic obsession V

C with grisly murderers, such as the German devil-worshippers Daniel and Manuela Ruda, who were recently jailed for stabbing a man in a Satanic ritual: it's only a cheap and juvenile way for Goths to advertise their own morbidity. Who hasn't played a Black Sabbath album backward or scrawled a "666" on their scalp at some point?

All right, maybe not all of us. But Goths are a largely timid crowd. I have not, to my knowledge, been insulted by a Goth. No Goth has ever lobbed sharp objects at me from a moving vehicle. A prejudice against, say, wearers of Adidas would have a better foundation than a dislike of Goths. But there's something about the passivity of modern Goths that strikes me as casually pernicious. It could be that they seem so tenuously related to the qualities of the artistic movement from which they have taken their name. The particular magic of the Gothic genre, as manifested in literature and cinema, is its ability to commute between beauty and horror without pledging allegiance to either. In authentic Gothic art, romance and menace are not mutually exclusive; it must always be possible to admire the shimmering silk inside Dracula's cape, the cockroach slickness of his matinee-idol hair, even as we are paralysed with fear at the disclosure of his glinting incisors.

But that is not the feeling that suggests itself to me when I see a party of Goths on a day trip to Camden Market, cooing over dinky silver skulls on chains and iron-on Charles Manson patches. Goth is about dressing-up - an innocently pleasurable pastime which we all indulge in. And that's all it is. What's increasingly difficult to stomach is its elevation to the level of latent phenomenon - the suggestion by Gothic enthusiasts that we would all find ourselves under the spell of Goth if we could but admit it. It's natural for any tribe to want to assert its superiority, but it may be that the Gothic influence has been too pervasive for the Goths themselves to be able to continue claiming credit. When novelty bands such as Strawberry Switchblade and the gun-toting heroines of Japanese anime can be gathered together under the umbrella term "perkygoth", we must surely have reached the stage at which it's quicker to make a list of people who don't qualify as Goths.

Of course, tribes have immense value far beyond youth; even those of us who like to think ourselves above all that are still adhering to tribal laws by dint of our trainers, our football team, the way we take our coffee. Conversely, the Goths who claim, as Baddeley does, that their lifestyle and aesthetic represent "a direct affront to a dull consumerist culture and a rigid work ethic" only prove that a propensity for denial crosses all fashion boundaries. As soon as you start positioning yourself against what is generally perceived as mainstream, you become no more extricated from its demands than if you were a Gareth-Gates-loving, clock-punching drone working the pick'n'mix counter at Woolworths. It's like those deluded souls who organised anti-jubilee parties earlier in the year: what they couldn't see was that they had allowed the royal anniversary to influence their lives far more than if they had simply ignored the celebrations and got on with their day.

That's my problem with Goths. Do what you want. Wear as much kohl and crushed velvet as you like. Crank those Cult albums all the way up to 11. Just don't pretend that you're blowing up Parliament. You know full well that the only person you're upsetting is your dear old mum, who knows now that she'll never have grandchildren - or, at least, not the kind she can take out in daylight.

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